Mispronunciation of the “S” sound can be quite common in children who are just learning to speak. “S” is one of the toughest sounds to master, but most youngsters outgrow this challenge in due time. For those who don’t, therapy must be geared toward addressing the specific speech or articulation disorder that’s delaying normal development.

If students can’t pronounce “S” – try “T.”

“S” and “T” are produced in the same place in the mouth, by touching the tip of the tongue to the bumpy spot directly behind the top front teeth – the alveolar ridge. While “T” is pronounced by building up air pressure and popping it out in a single short burst, “S” is produced by pushing air out continually.

  • If a child can’t find their alveolar ridge, try gently rubbing it with a tongue depressor so they can feel it. After they place their tongue there, have them bite their teeth closed, smile, and blow the air out.

If a child can pronounce “S” but omits it from words or conversations, use a name or a signal.

You can make this entertaining by comparing the “S” sound to the noise an animal might make. For instance, children relate to cats hissing when they’re angry or snakes making a sound like an “S.”

  • It’s important to find a name that reminds the child of the sound. For instance, you could call it the “hissing sound” or the “snake sound.” Use the same name consistently and continually.
  • Give it a hand signal. This is a great way to draw attention to a particular sound without having to verbally direct a student to correct a mistake. One idea is to have children read one book each night and use the designated hand signal every time they produce an “S.”

If there’s frontal distortion, check for tongue thrust.

Tongue thrust is a form of abnormal swallowing, which can greatly affect the ability to pronounce certain sounds. Everyone swallows with tongue thrust during infancy, but eventually should develop a more mature swallowing pattern. For those who do not, tongue thrust therapy can be very effective.

  • Teach an analogy. Here’s where animal images again come into play. Tell your student to pretend their tongue is like a snake and their teeth are the snake’s cage. To keep the snake in the cage, their tongue must be behind their teeth when they make the “S” sound. Give them a mirror to self-check. Their teeth should stay tightly closed. They should not be able to see their tongue while producing an “S.”

Come back to “T” for students with lateral distortion.

Generally, when a child has a lateralized “S” it means they’re pushing air out the sides of their mouths, rather than the center. You can use the “T” airflow to build up to a perfect “S.”

  • Try not to let the child know that you’re working on “S” pronunciation. They may fall back into their old lateralized airflow patterns and it will be very hard to correct. Instead, refer to the “S” you’re building as a “long ticking sound.”

For additional tips and resources to enhance your school-based therapy practice – or to check out the latest career opportunities in your field – contact the specialized recruiters at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services. Or, read our related posts to learn more.


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